Groundhog Blues in Lanark County


January always seemed like the longest month on the calendar. It was still cold and dark when February arrived, and there were so many months ahead before we could ride our bikes to DeWitt’s Corners, or Christie Lake.

Each year, we  waited patiently for Groundhog Day.  Would he see his shadow? Would there be an early spring, or would there be another two months at least of these cold, grey days?

Punxsutawney Phil had predicted the onset of spring since 1890 in Pennsylvania, and his Canadian counterpart Wiarton Willie began his annual forecast in the 1950s. At our house we listened closely to both forecasts, hoping that at least one of these rodents would offer some hope of an early spring.

So, we had two possible groundhog predictions, and two different radio stations. There was CJET in Smiths Falls, and Mother would often tune in and listen to Hal Botham after we’d left for school, while she did her ironing. CFRA was her usual early morning station and we’d often hear Ken ‘General’ Grant shouting, “Forward Ho!” as we ate our puffed wheat, before walking down the lane to wait for the school bus.

I could tell that Mother was also growing weary of the long, cold days of winter and if the ‘General’ didn’t report the prediction she wanted to hear then she’d likely turn the dial to CJET hoping that Hal Botham would have another version of the groundhog’s forecast. If it was cloudy, and the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, we’d have an early spring – just six more weeks of winter. By the first week of February we didn’t want to hear any other forecast. Six more weeks of winter would be enough to bear, without the possibility of the season being any longer!

When I came downstairs for breakfast that Groundhog Day morning so long ago, Mother had already set up the old ironing board and was busy ironing a linen tea-towel. I asked her if she’d heard the groundhog’s prediction yet, and she didn’t look up, but continued to iron. “It’s just a myth, just folklore”, she said, and she folded the tea towel neatly, and started on the next one.


“So, he saw his shadow?” I asked. “Yes they both did.” she responded somberly, still not looking up from her work, and folded the next tea-towel.

I sat quietly at the old kitchen table, ate my bowl of puffed wheat, drank my orange juice, and took my cod liver oil capsule without even being asked. Six more weeks would have spring starting sometime in the middle of March, but now it would be even longer.

I finished my breakfast, put my dishes in the old porcelain sink, pulled on my boots and coat, grabbed my wool hat, mitts and lunch pail, and headed out the door.


As I trudged down the long, snowy lane-way to the Third Line, I felt defeated. It was sad how a couple of groundhogs that we didn’t even know could make Mother and I feel so depressed. I didn’t even understand how they could have seen their shadows that morning, because it wasn’t sunny outside at all. I couldn’t see my own shadow, and that meant that our local groundhogs wouldn’t be able to see theirs either.


I didn’t really know where Wiarton was located in Ontario, and didn’t have a clue about Pennsylvania, but I was sure that none of the groundhogs in Lanark County saw their shadows on that cloudy, grey morning in February. Maybe the other groundhogs were wrong! Maybe there would be an early spring after all! Maybe the snow would be gone soon, and I could ride my bike up to Christie Lake again. I had to stay positive. I had to keep hoping. I had to………………





*     *     *     *     *     *     *






(an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line
ISBN 978-0-9877026-3-0)


Merry Month of May


If the fall in Lanark County was big, bold, and colourful, then spring was just the opposite.  The autumn was in-your-face, unavoidable, brilliant hues in every direction; yellows, oranges, reds and greens. The soundtrack for this colourful season consisted of hunters’ rifles echoing in the distance, Canada geese honking, and cottagers speeding up and down the Third Line, making their last few trips to Christie Lake, before the cold weather set in for the season.

Spring was the exact opposite.  Sometimes Old Man Winter just didn’t want to let go, and spring came quietly, hesitating, like a shy young lady, not quite sure if it was her time to come up on the stage for the show.  Sometimes we’d see a sneak preview of spring, and she’d enter ever so softly into the yard, drifting along on a warm south wind, only to be turned back at the gate, as winter stubbornly hung on, refusing to leave.

The yard dried up a bit more each day, and the sun stayed up in the sky a little longer.  We’d clean off our boots for the season, and store them up in the attic; only to find snow on the ground the very next day, as though winter had been spying on us through the window, and wanted to make his presence known once again.  Up the back-stairs we’d march, retrieve our boots reluctantly, and set them back down on the rubber mat by the kitchen door, all the while feeling discouraged and beaten.

rubber boots

With the snow finally gone, the plants began to poke their heads timidly out of the ground.  First, the flowering bulbs along the sidewalk, then thin, frail strands of grass began to stand up straight and green again and next the bashful buds on the trees slowly unfurled their pale green leaves.  There was a soft green glow all through the yard, as the plants cautiously came back to life.

budding trees 2

Just like the budding leaves around us, the earliest flowers sensed that the frost was past, and it was safe to inch their way out of the chilly ground, and show their colours. The very first flowers to bloom were always the crocuses, tulips and daffodils, and we monitored their growth like hawks.  No other flowers of the summer or fall would get as much attention as those first few bulbs that bravely made their way through the cold earth each spring.  Mother’s bulbs were planted right along the sidewalk leading up to the old house, so there was no way we could miss their progress.



The sun began to feel stronger and hotter on our faces, the purple and yellow Irises sprang up along the creek beside Perkins’ field.  With the snow melted, moisture soaked the ground, and the water drained from the fields, rushed along through the culverts, and into the lowlands.  Yellow Cowslips appeared at the edge of the woods, and tiny black tadpoles darted back and forth, searching for food in the cold, clear water that rushed along in the creek.

cowslips  tadpoles

Early in May, the ditches along the side road were painted bright with Trilliums – mostly white, but also pink and some even burgundy coloured.  Past the ditches, and at the edges of the fields, there were tiny purple Violets, and fragile, white, Lilies of the Valley, bobbing their heads in the breeze.  Taller and bolder, stood the Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and nearby, were the rounded silhouettes of the showy Lady Slippers.

purple trillium  violets  jack in the pulpit  lady slipper

Closer to the railroad tracks, we saw the comically shaped Dutchman’s Breeches, waving in the warm spring winds.  Not really a flower, but a much-loved bloom of our spring nonetheless, were the Pussy Willows, and we often took a branch or two back for Mother, to put in her glass vase on the dining room table.

dutchman's breeches  pussy willow

As the days and weeks of spring passed by, the lilac bushes filled our yard with their unmistakable fragrance. If spring had a signature scent in Lanark County surely it was born in these heavy clumps of flowers, that graced almost every yard in the region.


There was no escaping the heady perfume, and even as we opened the car doors, outside of Calvin Church on Sunday mornings, we’d be greeted by that sweet smell, as it drifted across the road from Cameron’s farm, and from up near the manse, where the minister lived. The bumble bees had awakened from their dormant state in the hives, and they buzzed around the white and lavender lilacs, gliding from flower to flower, and just like us, were drawn to their rich, sweet scent.


Along with the rebirth of the flowers and trees in our yard, some of our familiar birds re-appeared, as the weeks grew warmer, and days grew longer. Everyone wanted to be the first to spot one of the robins, returning each year, to the nest in the spruce tree near the house; but long before that, the skies were filled with geese, flying in their familiar ‘v’ formation.


In the weeks that followed, we saw the return of the Red-winged Blackbirds, the Barn Swallows, and the bright orange and black Orioles. The Wrens were a common sight in our yard, and the Killdeers had by far the most distinctive cries, as they soared high in the branches of the maple trees. Less common, were the tall, regal Blue Herons, that appeared in the lowlands near the train tracks. The mallard ducks paraded their young along the duck-pond, near the Fourth Line.


The bees were not the only ones with a taste for something sweet, and the earliest treats from our spring gardens were the strawberries and the rhubarb. The rhubarb grew wild in a clump beside Perkins’ fence, at the edge of Mother’s flower bed, and although it was tart on its own, it was a perfect complement mixed with the sweet juicy strawberries. The rhubarb was picked, cleaned, chopped into pieces, and simmered gently, on top of the old stove. Sugar was added to sweeten the taste, and Mother served the stewed rhubarb in little melamine dishes, for a spring dessert.

rhubarb (1)   stewed rhubarb

The strawberries and rhubarb were often combined with sugar in a saucepan on top of the stove, simmered slowly, cooled, and spooned into one of Mother’s rich pie crusts. She would cut long strips of pastry, lay them criss-crossed on the top of the sweet combination of strawberry-rhubarb, and bake to a golden brown in the old oven.


When the local strawberries were at their peak, Calvin Church held their annual Strawberry Social. The ladies’ auxiliary, the Calvinettes, bustled about in the church hall, preparing for the crowds that flocked to sample the sweet, rich, strawberry shortcake. Frances Dixon and Audrey Jordan, Betty Miller, Ona Closs, Eleanor Conboy, Merle Korry, Jean Jordan, Wilma Munro, Doris Popplewell, Phyllis Korry, Agnes Stiller, Shirley Tysick, Carmel Jordan, Wilma Scott, Laura Milne, Marge Cook, Betty Johnston, Maxine Jordan, and of course, Mother, would all be busy in the tiny church kitchen. These ladies had worked together on so many occasions, that they moved about in harmony, like a symphony orchestra, each one performing their parts to perfection.

There were kettles to boil, and pots of tea to prepare. Coffee was made in the tall metal percolator, and the china cups and saucers were all arranged on the plastic table cloth, at the center of the kitchen. The long, wooden tables were set up in the hall, and the wooden chairs placed along each side. Cheery vases of spring blooms graced the tables, and of course the stars of the show, the dozens of plates of strawberry shortcake were displayed on a wooden table beside the door, as if to entice the visitors to come and enjoy our first social outing of the season.

strawberry shortcake  Calvin United Church brightened.jpg  church social

The Strawberry Social was our sign that the nice weather was officially here. The boots and coats were finally packed away for the season, and it was time to reconnect with neighbours and friends, along the Third Line.

Spring may have come slowly and timidly at first, but now she confidently took her rightful place on center stage. Over the weeks she gained determination, and brought forth a sense of optimism, along with her soft greens, and her fragrant flowers. Her bright sun warmed our bones, and lingered on after supper, making our days longer, and our spirits brighter. It was a time for rebirth in the barns, woods and meadows, and for planting the crops in the fields.

calf in meadow  tractor

We stepped a little lighter, laughed a little louder, and chatted over the fences a little longer. We gathered bouquets of wildflowers, dined on fresh strawberries and began to ride our bikes up and down the Third Line again. We ran up grassy hills and rolled back down again through the young clover, feeling light and giddy, free from our boots and coats. There were trilliums to pick for Mother, and tadpoles to catch and keep in a jar. Spring had come at last to Bathurst Township, and was it ever worth the wait!




Enjoy a taste of spring from Lanark County!

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pastry – for double-crust pie, sufficient for top and bottom 9 inch crust.


3 c chopped rhubarb
3 c sliced strawberries
¼ c Lanark County maple syrup
1 ½ c white sugar
3 Tbsp tapioca
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
½ tsp lemon zest
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp butter cut in small cubes
1 egg white beaten with 1 tsp water

Filling Preparation:

Mix rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, maple syrup, tapioca, flour, lemon zest and lemon juice, cinnamon, and vanilla. Mix and pour onto chilled pie crust. Dot the top of the mixture with butter. Brush edges of pie crust with egg white wash. Roll out the other piece of dough slice into long strips and place half of the strips across pie, then overlap remaining strips on the diagonal. Crimp with fork to seal edges. Lightly brush with egg white – water mixture. Cover edges with foil and bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the filling begins to bubble.



“Merry Month of May”

-an excerpt from “Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line” ISBN 978-0-987702630

LC Calendar


January Feast at Mother’s Birdfeeder

Blue Jay

There was nothing fancy about the rickety old wooden bird feeder in the orchard behind the house. Our father was not going to win any awards for his design, that’s for sure. The bird feeder was constructed of five short pieces of wood, cut from an old weathered plank, and consisted of a floor, a roof, and three side walls. The pieces were nailed together, and mounted on a two by four, hammered into the ground, about twenty feet from the back kitchen window.

It was Mother who requested that the feeder be built one winter. It had been a brutally cold January, and snowy too. The winds from the north seemed particularly harsh that year, and it had been weeks since I’d ventured up the Third Line to visit my friends at DeWitt’s Corners. I’d been outside a few times helping with the shoveling, and even slid down our neighbour Chris Perkins’ hill on my toboggan a couple of times, but it was just too cold to stay outside for very long.

Because of the heavy snow and frigid temperatures, Mother had been very concerned that the birds wouldn’t be able to find food and would perish. Once Dad had finished putting up the bird feeder, Mother went to straight to work preparing something she thought would be hearty and filling for her feathered friends.

She brought out the heavy, well-worn, cast iron frying pan from under the sink, went straight to the old refrigerator, and picked up her bowl of bacon drippings. Every time Mother cooked bacon she poured the leftover drippings into a melamine bowl, and stored it in the fridge. She used the drippings to add flavour whenever she fried eggs, and for frying onions to have as a side dish with supper.


While the bacon drippings were heating up in the pan, Mother brought out a heavy plastic bag where she stored old crusts of bread, and she began to break them into crumbs. She rubbed them against the palm of her hand over a mixing bowl, until they were in fine pieces, like the crumbs for Christmas stuffing. Next, she brought the bowl of crumbs over to the frying pan and poured them in, a bit at a time, and stirred them with a wooden spoon, until they were coated in bacon drippings.


She scraped the crumbs back into the mixing bowl, and set it on the kitchen table to cool, while she put on her boots and coat. She grabbed the bowl and headed out the door into the back porch, and out to the new feeder in the orchard. Dad might not have built a fancy-looking feeder, but he had placed it at just the right height so that Mother could easily lay her bacon-coated crumbs inside.

Mother came back in the kitchen, took off her coat and boots, and we waited patiently by the window. I pushed back the curtain, and pulled up a couple of kitchen chairs so we could watch. By this time Dad had put away his tools, had come in from the garage, and was making himself a cup of coffee. He warned me not to make any sudden movements in front of the window, or I would scare the birds away, so I sat there quietly and we waited.

Less than fifteen minutes passed when we saw our first ‘customer’. We were all excited, and even Dad, who hadn’t seemed particularly interested at first, was over by the window to watch the show. The first bird at the feeder was a blue jay. He had a little blue ‘hat’ and wings, and a big round white belly. There was a blue and white pattern on his back and he had a lovely, long tail with many different shades of blue all the way to the tip. His eyes and his beak were shiny and black, and he pecked away eagerly at the crumbs in the feeder for several minutes.

blue-jay-1 blue-jay-2

He continued to peck at the crumbs, looked around nervously, pecked again and then looked straight at us with his big black eyes as if to say ‘thank-you’, then he flew away through the orchard and over the back field, heading toward the train tracks.



The bird feeder was a success! Dad was smiling, knowing that his efforts had been worthwhile. Mother was pleased that her very first ‘customer’ had enjoyed his meal, and hopefully would bring his friends back to dine as well, and keep in good health during the cold spell.

snowstorm bluejays

Mother’s birdfeeder would remain in the old orchard for many decades. The construction was basic, the feed was always the same – bacon grease and breadcrumbs, and over the years thousands of birds would dine at the feeder while we watched from the kitchen window. Blue Jays were always her favourites, although I saw a few handsome red Cardinals and many Black-Capped Chickadees over the years as well.

chickadee   winter-bird-cardinal

On these harsh, frigid, January days, when the winds are relentless, and the snow piles up around us, I think of our small feathered friends back on the Third Line. I wonder if the old feeder is still standing in the orchard, and if anyone thinks to put out a few crumbs and some drippings for our beautiful, hungry, winter birds. In the stark, white landscape they provided a welcome splash of colour, and their songs gave us hope through the long, silent winter.












“January Feast at Mother’s Bird Feeder”

is an excerpt from  “Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”



Finding the Spirit of Christmas in Lanark County


The glass felt cold as I pressed my face against the kitchen window, and watched the snowflakes falling softly on the spruce tree beside the old house. The Christmas lights were wrapped ‘round and ‘round the tree, and the soft colours shone on the snow-covered branches below.


It was Christmas Eve, the most magical night of the year, and I was bursting with anticipation. Santa was coming tonight, and would surely be leaving some wonderful gifts under the tree in the living room. I had been very good all year, and had written a letter asking for a lovely new doll with long red hair and big blue eyes. I stared up at the night sky, white with snow and wondered where Santa was? Was he in Lanark County yet, or was he delivering his toys to children in other parts of the world, along his route? Hal Botham, on CJET radio, said that Santa’s sleigh was spotted up north, so I was sure that he must be on his way to the Third Line!

Santa flying  Hal Botham

Supper was finished, and Mother was tidying up the kitchen. Soon, we’d be heading over to Calvin Church for their candlelight service. Every year we were allowed to open one present after returning from church, and then we had to head straight to bed, and go right to sleep, so that Santa could deliver our gifts.

When Mother was finished sweeping the floor, we put on our coats and boots, and headed outside. The old car was chilly, and the heater was blowing cold air. I shivered as we headed down the lane, and up the Third Line, toward DeWitt’s Corners.

snowy road

Everyone’s Christmas lights glowed,on that night, so long ago. The pine tree in front of Chris and Leanore Perkins’ house was decked out in blue lights, and Korrys had red and green lights framing their front door. Mitchells, Conboys and Scotts all had lovely bright lights, and we passed by house after house, all aglow in their Christmas finest.  Then we slowed down, and turned up Cameron side road.

farmhouse-christmas-lights-1     farmhouse-christmas-lights-2

farmhouse-christmas-lights-3   farmhouse-lights-4

When we finally arrived at the church, there were only a few cars parked, and some people had already gone inside. The light coming from the little country church glowed softly against the cool white snow, and the delicate flakes continued to swirl around as we parked, and Mother shut off the engine. When I opened the car door the church yard was silent. The snow continued to drift down softly, and as I stood there I listened, but couldn’t hear a thing. We didn’t speak as we walked up to the church, and I’ll never forget how calm and peaceful it was that night as we walked up those well worn steps.

Calvin United Church

Calvin United Church, Cameron Side Road, Tay Valley Township, Lanark County

We sat in our usual pew, behind Munros, in front of Johnstons, and in the next little while familiar faces appeared again and again at the doorway of the church, filed in, and took their seats. Many stopped to chat on the way to their pews. They were our neighbours, our classmates from Glen Tay School, and our good friends. As I looked around at all of their faces I realized how special it was to be there that night, and to be a part of this close community.


When everyone was finally seated, and it seemed like the little church couldn’t hold even one more person, the sounds of the organ filled the air, and the old wooden pews creaked as everyone stood up at once. The song was a familiar one; we all knew the words, and our voices swelled in unison as we sang the ancient carol, “Si..lent night……., night………,  All is calm……., All is bright.”


Old, familiar carols were sung, and the story of the first Christmas was told once again.

And so that was how Christmas unfolded out in the country. The days and months leading up to that moment were filled with anticipation. Trees were trimmed, and cards were mailed. Letters to Santa were written, and toys were circled in pen, in the Sears Christmas Wishbook. We rehearsed for Christmas concerts, and ran down the lane each day, bringing back handfuls of Christmas cards, adorned with stickers and seals. Cookies were baked, and invitations went out to family members and friends,to come and spend the day.

All of these things played their part leading up to the most special day of the year; but it was not until we sat in the pews of the small country church, and raised our voices, singing our favourite carols, that I knew for sure that the spirit of Christmas was among us.


I knew from an early age that the spirit of Christmas didn’t live in the beautifully decorated store windows in Perth, or under the brightly lit tree in our living room. I’m not sure if the Christmas spirit travelled up the Third Line, and down the Cameron side road like us, or if it came up Highway 7, and crossed at Gamble’s side road. I still don’t know how the Christmas spirit found us, in the little church……….all the way out in the country.


All I know is every year it appeared on Christmas Eve without fail. I could see it in the faces around me, I heard it as we sang the carols, and our voices rose high into the old wooden ceiling. It warmed our hearts, filled us with pure joy, and a profound sense of peace.


If you ever find yourself searching for the Christmas spirit, I’ll tell you where it is. Just drive out the Third Line on Christmas Eve, to the little country church on Cameron side road. It’s the small red brick church at the top of the hill. Go ahead inside, and then wait. You’ll feel it. It will be there. It’s always there; and even if you live far, far, away, you can take it home with you, keep it in your heart, and it will stay with you forever.

Merry Christmas!


Christmas banner 2

Some of the faces I remember on Christmas Eve at Calvin Church:

Calvin 1

Calvin 2

Calvin 3

Calvin 4

Calvin 5

Calvin 6

Calvin 7

Some are gone, none are forgotten.


mangerFor unto you


Calvin United Church was opened for worship in September of 1896, built on the property of Mr. John Cameron.  The first elected officers in the church were Andrew Gamble, William Scott, Andrew Palmer, George Miller, Andrew B. Miller, Andrew W. Miller, W.J. Palmer, John Jordan, Nichol Stewart, Alex Palmer and Sydney Miller. 


To learn more of the history of Calvin United Church, Cameron Side road,DeWitt’s Corners, Tay Valley Township, Lanark County:

History of Calvin United Church

“Finding the Spirit of Christmas in Lanark County”,
An excerpt from “Lanark County Calendar:  Four Seasons on the Third Line”
ISBN:  978-0-9877026-30
Available at The Book Nook, Perth, The Bookworm, Perth, Mill Street Books, Almonte
and online:

L C Calendar book cover

Bustling With Bats – Summer Nights in the Country


As the fiery red July sun sank low on the horizon, finally disappearing behind Mitchell’s barn, the first bats of the summer evening swooped low, along the maple trees in our yard.  Their small, dark, shadowy figures glided effortlessly, along the lowest branches, and dotted the skies over the clothesline, at the side of the old house.


The little brown bats returned to our yard every spring, and the mothers produced just one baby each year, around the middle of June.  By the end of July, the babies took their first flights, as they were weaned off of their mother, and began to eat insects.

bats baby

Although some people were afraid that the bats would fly into their hair, they made a high frequency sound that bounced back, and prevented them from colliding with anything – other than the mosquitoes they feasted on nightly.

Because they were nocturnal creatures, we never saw them in the daytime, as they hung upside down, under the eaves of the roof, or sought shelter in the attic, above the kitchen.  Around sunset each summer evening, they begin to soar around the yard, swooping and gliding, along the branches, seeking out the bloated mosquitoes that dined on us, as we sat outside in the evening.

bats tree

Mother and Dad didn’t mind sharing our yard with the bats. Our parents sat on their lawn chairs, enjoying a plate of homemade oatmeal cookies; Dad with a coffee in hand, and Mother with her lemonade.

lawn chairs

The summer days were hot, often humid, and the only form of air conditioning in the old house was to open a window, and hope for the best.  Sitting outside under the big maple trees in the evening was a nice way to cool down, and reflect on the events of the day.  We’d glance down the lane, watch the cars going by on the Third Line, and one at a time, turn on their headlights for the night.

country road night

The crickets and bullfrogs were in full chorus by then, as more and more bats appeared, and the sky became a dark cloak, shrouding their movements in secrecy.  Small flashes of light moved along the front garden, as the fireflies began their nightly parade, competing with the bats for our attention.


As the summer season unfolded, there would be many nights like this.  We’d sit outside to cool down, after a long hot day, and we became the audience for the sunset performance of the small brown bats, and their aerial show.

Mother and Dad would eventually rise from their lawn chairs, and fold them up for the evening; carrying their empty cups, and the scattered crumbs remaining on the cookie plate.

cookie crumbs

The bats would continue their hunt for food long after we’d gone into the old house, gliding and darting in the yard, as we slumbered peacefully through the warm summer night.

sleeping child





(an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line, ISBN 978-0-9877026-30)

LC Calendar